I knew the name of this author, because of the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel that she won this year for “Mexican Gothic”. I announce the prize in my monthly news. Ok, it is in English but nevertheless she is Mexican by birth.
I thought I was going to read “Mexican Gothic”, but I received a vampire story. And everybody know what I hate the most is the horror clichés, specially when they are trend, like vampires and zombies.
However, this book arrives when the vampire fever is over. So, I decided to give a try. I remember when my husband bought me as a birthday gift a book from García Marquez… and it was a historical novel, genre that is not my favorite. But García Marquez was a skillful writer and not only I read the whole book, but I enjoyed it. Silvia Moreno-García came with good reviews from some people whose opinion I respect, and I started to read the book.
From the first phrase I was hooked. I enjoyed the book, not only because it is well written, but because (finally!) somebody get creative with a very used topic. Vampires used to be creatures of the dark, the perfect metaphor for forbidden sexual desires during the Victorian era. And then somebody decided to make them “romantic”, ignoring the fact that they WERE romantics, even if a dark one. This somebody made of the vampire a stupid boy in love of a stupid girl, a bad metaphor of the innocent girl in love of a “bad” guy. And a bunch followed the trend. Even a zombie that “revive” in the name of love and toys Barbie-like that are cute monsters. As a horror writer myself, I found the “trendy cute monster” really scary. We need monsters, real ones, those who make us feel afraid. Fear is one on the most important emotions of the human being. Fear motivate us to go further to find a solution to feel protect: to create light, so we don’t need to worry about what hides in the dark for example. Without fear our lives would be shorter.
There are several psychologist talking about the importance of reading scary stories to children, like that, in the safety space of the fantasy, they can confront their fears and find solutions to them. The same goes for adults. We also need to explore and express our feelings, especially negative ones. As the vampire was a metaphor for hidden sexual impulses, we need metaphors for our modern fears: the “other”, the end of resources, and right now a “pandemic” that changes even the way we communicate. Try to take away the scary element to a monster is harmful for the society.
It is refreshing to see somebody, not only writing about vampires as monsters, but to find another way to define them. So, in Moreno-García’s book vampires are another race, an ancient one, that manage to hide and to survive, sometimes considered as gods, others as demons. But they are discovered, and they are fear and despised. Most of the countries in the world have strict rules to handle the problem. But in Mexico, they are almost free to do whatever they want. They are advantages in being a vampire: shape shift, live longer…but they are also downsides. Vampires cannot breed as easy as humans, they are minority, to survive they are criminals, with enemies everywhere, other vampires and humans too. As a Latin American myself, I cannot avoid to find the metaphor here.
It is not a surprise that the main characters meet. They are part of the otherness that the normal society hates: Domingo is a poor boy that survives collecting garbage, Alt is a vampire whose family was killed by another clan. Two loneliness founding each other. The Mexico of the book is not far from the real Mexico, not far from any Latin American country actually, it has the corruption, the violence, the clash of classes that you can find in any big city. But it has also the networks you need to make in order to survive, that solidarity created to palliate the lack of social system to help the ones in need, And of course also the relationships that you build.
Because this is also a love story. But not a cheesy one, with the classical “happy ending”. The feelings are real, but there are some things that are not mend to be for practical reasons, even if the feelings are strong. Domingo and Alt don’t have a happy ending, but a bitter sweet one, that goes very well the tone of the novel.
Since Dracula I have not enjoyed so much a vampire story. Believe me, this is a good book, very well written, with an original premise and interesting story.
About the author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a short story writer, novelist, editor, columnist for The Washington Post and book reviewer for NPR. She has written the short story collections “This Strange Way of Dying” and “Love and Other Poisons” and has edited the anthology “She Walks in Shadows,” which was the recipient of the World Fantasy Award. Among her novels is “Mexican Gothic External” (Del Rey), which was a New York Times bestseller and the recipient of the Pacific Northwest Book Award. In addition to being a writer and an editor, Moreno-Garcia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, a micro-press dedicated to horror and dark fiction.